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October 2010: Binge and Purge

Extra Fine Points Index  ]

RadioBY DON FLUCKINGER • This month, I’ve finally had it with all the clutter in this place. I’ve been on an eBay rampage, selling off extra computers (four so far), a working 1940s Zenith Trans-Oceanic tube radio (loved it, never used it), and a pile of fountain pens.

Those who follow the writings in this space know I advocate using the pens we collect and not just letting them rot in storage. So it was time to, as they say in the software industry, to eat my own dog food and trim my collection — especially after my four-pen binge (at least for me) after the D.C. show.

There comes a time in every pen collector’s journey — the longer you collect, the more regularly this happens — where it’s time to focus. Extra Fine Points

So some of the pens that will be making their way to Richard’s pen tray over the next few months came from my collection. Vacumatics, Waterman’s, some classic vintage Sheaffers…gone. Others will be making their way onto eBay.

There comes a time in every pen collector’s journey — the longer you collect, the more regularly this happens — where it’s time to focus. My own journey has been guided from early on by none other than Paul Erano, whose sage advice appears in a couple of his books, most recently in Fountain Pens Past & Present:

The focus of a fountain pen collection will not materialize from a maze of pens and pencils without a clear idea of the big picture. As with any collection, the main idea should be apparent and it should be presented in a way that makes the viewer want to know more.

And in my case, I’ve always been drawn to metal pens. And Wearevers. And modern pens that demonstrate serious flash and can be discussion-starters with noncollectors (ever whip out a Strawberry Bexley America the Beautiful fountain pen to take notes in a meeting at work?).

Also, anything that’s ever been a gift to me stays; these are worth more to me than they could possibly be to another collector down the line. There is much to be said in this hobby about sentimental value that isn’t intrinsic in other hobbies. Writing is such a personal act, and pens are quite personal objects.

So that’s it. I’m keeping my Targas, the crème de la Wearever crème, and metal pens. The rest, set free into the collector world for others to enjoy. Good, bad, and ugly. That leaves a lot of room to hold on to some of my favorites, like that Parker “51” Flighter.

Fountain pen

I also must hold on to the six lovely Vacumatic Duofolds and their matching pencils, justifying keeping them for the unorthodox reason that they actually touched off my Wearever collecting. After all, they are not so far in look and feel from the Pacemaker, which was the next logical step in my collector journey: One day at an antique shop I spotted a Pacemaker from afar, mistaking it for Vac Duofold. After I realized it wasn’t a Parker but a lowly Wearever, I still wanted it, and couldn’t put it down.

Fountain pen
Fountain pen

Holy smokes, I am taking a bath in this process, but I’m still convinced it’s the right thing to do. Letting go in the first place is the difficult part. Letting go for less cash than I put into them? Easy for me, once I’ve made the decision to part with a pen.

Erano writes:

It is a natural tendency for the beginning collector to scoop up all the fountain pens he happens upon, only to realize at a later time that a good deal of money was spent on pens that do little to enhance his collection.

I pick one little nit with that statement. “Beginning collector?” I think more than a few veterans succumb to this syndrome, especially in the giddy confines of a pen show when the blood’s pumping and the cash is flowing. Or when the new catalog from a favorite retailer or pen company comes out. Or at an antique shop when the owner trots out an old cigar box overflowing with vintage pens in various states of preservation.

It’s a point worth keeping in mind when cash is burning a hole in your pocket: Focus your collection. Don’t be like me. Or you’ll end up here, too, having to do the addition-by-subtraction thing in order to collect the pens you really want. Carry on. Your pens, I mean. Use them, or lose them.

cover Fountain Pens : Past and Present (revised edition)
Paul engages you with narrative, teaching and entertaining you at the same time. There’s a good serving of history here, and plenty of wisdom for beginning and advanced collectors, plus superb photography of pens, ephemera, and other related materials.

Don Fluckinger lives in Nashua, New Hampshire, and is the son-in-law of Richard Binder. His articles have been published in Antiques Roadshow Insider, The Boston Globe, and on the collectibles Web site. Please note: Any opinions stated in this column are Don’s alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Richard Binder or this Web site. Don Fluckinger
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